Monday, June 2, 2014

Security State? Edward Snowden's Burn Notice Interview with MSNBC

I do not know enough (and neither do you) of Edward Snowden's background to feel 100% on this but from my understanding of covert ops, and of many of the things he was talking about in last Friday's MSNBC interview with him, I saw nothing that felt patently incorrect.

However, I'm going to more or less blow off concerns about him because his situation has distracted us from reality and what is actually important. There will be more of his type down the road, that is now the nature of the beast that is modern intel acquisition. We'd  better get our act together. If nothing else Snowden has pointed out some major issues, including not just what our intelligence people are doing but also a vast orientation in our government toward cheaper and quantifiable, being better than more expensive and qualitative (traditional spycraft) intel.

Get past how you may think he looks like a snotty twerp who turned on his pledge to secrecy, our government and America. Get past that. Listen to what he says, objectively. Then realize that you probably don't know enough to judge him merely by his perceived actions, his demeanor and situation. Look beyond that because much of what he is saying overall, is important to us as civilian citizens of the United States of America.

Snowden knows that when he left and took those docs, when he spoke to journalists. He contacted Glenn Greewald of The Guardian (see his book on this, No Place To Hide - Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State"), via a rather cryptic email requesting him to install encryption software for his email. But Greenwald blew him off because so many times this kind of thing turns out to be nothing. Considering he is one of the busiest journalists in the world, he gets a lot of that type of thing.

Snowden then contacted documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in Germany. She wasn't sure about all this either so she contacted, but she had encryption so Snowden went forward with her. But she wasn't so sure about this shady character either, so she contacted journalist Barton Gellman of The Washington Post. She met him at a Greenwhich Village restaurant in New York City. When they got there, they moved to elsewhere. Better safe than sorry.

Poitras asked Gellman to vet Snowden and he agreed. Snowden called Gellman, "Brass Banner" and himself, "Verax" which means "Truth Teller" in Latin. In the end, Snowden requested a meet in Hong Kong. but Gellman decided against going after Snowden said their lives may be in danger from American covert agencies. So odd as life can be sometimes, Gellman suggested Greenwald instead who took over for him and flew to Hong Kong with Poitras to meet Snowden.

In doing all this, Snowden burned himself, his career, and he will never work in intelligence again. Perhaps he can find a teaching job somewhere. I just hope it's for an American school and not a foreign one, especially not for one of our enemies (and I use that term lightly and include North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China, among others). Let's not force him into that, because we are now forcing him into a Zugzwang set of moves and if we're not, we're surely trying ("We" being our government who speaks for us).

That being said, do you know what "burn notices" are in the intelligence field? Wikipedia: "burn notice is an official statement issued by an intelligence agency to other agencies. It states that an asset or intelligence source is unreliable for one or more reasons, often fabrication. This is essentially a directive for the recipient to disregard or "burn" all information derived from that individual or group." 

At times "burning" someone includes discrediting them, or worse, as in the TV show mentioned below. Sometimes, far worse, which are few and far between. Consider that for a moment, then reflect on our government saying what Snowden claims as proof, is non-existent, that he is a "low level analyst". Is he? He claims not and we may never know for sure.

There was recently a TV show called, "Burn Notice" that ran for seven seasons. At first it was quite good, even the "Farm", the CIA training facility used episodes to show to it's trainees. Later and especially in its last season, it had gone downhill pretty badly. They probably should have ended at season five.

But that was entertainment. This, is reality.

They keep saying Snowden should return to "face the music" (for more on this type of thing see Daniel Ellsberg's comments, "Pentagon Papers Whistleblower: Snowden Won't Get a Fair Trial"), a rather stupid thing to even ask and a shallow and obvious attempt to obfuscate and further denigrate him. If he did the wrong thing, considering his gone already, let him go, who cares, we don't need him.

If he did the right thing, then the government is going to want to persecute him, hide him, and lock him away, though they may be forced to parade him around a bit, I'm pretty sure they will pull national security issues and scurry him away with all possible aplomb. They fear to an almost paranoid degree, being found out that what he says may be true. They fear for their future plans, on the track that they have been on now for over a decade, all of which have their roots back in the 80s.

I couldn't help but think that in the interview, Snowden could have been me at twenty-nine saying very similar things, or my son if he had gone into this kind of work. But would we have had the wherewithal to speak out and do what Snowden did? Considering his family background (his grandfather was at the FBI, his father a veteran), it adds at least some veracity to his words.

Snowden claimed in 2004 he joined the US Army under the 18X special forces recruitment program where he admittedly washed out when he broke both his legs. He also said he was in foreign countries working undercover. I don't see why that would be such a hard thing to believe. After all it's not claiming to be a superspy or anything, just a guy undercover. Cops do that. Big deal.

He said may things I agreed 100% with. The government, and his own statements regarding his bone fides, in those not matching up, is really not so surprising. You have to consider the field he is in regardless of what level he was at. This would be par for the course and he knows it and we should, too. I don't have (in some ways) any issue in believing him against our government and I tend to err on the side of the government, whenever I can. Typically, business as usual is the order of the day, so, that's kind of a double edged sword in a situation like this.

Believe it or not, the government is actually pretty good about being stand up on issues like freedom of information and being honest about things; individuals and administrations, notwithstanding (Dick Cheney and Bush Jr. and that administration for instance). Typically they are surprisingly honest about things; when pushed. Until, you step into issues of covert ops and then they feel an absolute interest in honesty; but also absolutely no need to be honest, no compunction whatsoever to alter things in order to support their contentions, against all others.

At this point, until I see a crack in his mirror, I tend to believe much of what he's saying. On the other hand, if he was trained as a spy as he claims, this could all, as he indicated, be exercising a part of his training to deceive.

See, this is how the covert ops paradigm works. It's basic trade (spy) craft and it will drive some people crazy who are unfamiliar with it. It makes civilians feel distrustful almost instantly; but this is a shadow world where you have to "see" what's going on only by seeing what lies match with what, what truths with what verified intel; or by what is simply not there. As in "seeing" a black hole, only because of what is missing around it in the sky. It's a fascinating area and it gets easier as you delve deeper into it.

To those who would say his answers were shallow and thin, you have to consider that is simply the nature of his situation. He is walking a thin line with broken glass glued to it. He has to be circumspect. He also doesn't, so he says, want to spill the beans on too much as that wasn't his purpose in all this, but rather to let us know what's going on. Many of the arguments against him simply aren't supported by either his situation or his actions.

This area is a world of misinformation and disinformation, distraction and misdirection. Even at times when the government is being completely honest with us, it can be lying to us; and it knows it. That's how it works. I can tell you an absolute truth, and yet, in my delivery, you will believe the opposite.

The government claims his submitted complaints to those above him do not exist. It is almost impossible now a days to thoroughly hide a "paper trail" like that as it's digitized, stored, backed up, possibly with redundant backups, and so on.

An independent analysis and pulling of emails, backups and so on would very likely eventually come up with something; if not just someone else stepping up and speaking up on his behalf. Though I wouldn't hold my breath over that one, as it would most likely take someone who has retired, or left the community and in no fear of losing their retirement or severance, if not simply concerns about repercussions.

The fact of the matter is that many of his words fit. But do they fit too perfectly? Or are they simply purely accurate and the government is being disingenuous. Ask yourself, much as he was saying, does what he says fit (it does). Has our government been doing questionable things, and for a length of time; hiding their activities beyond what they should be (they have)? Is it easier now to trust our government who have been doing questionable things for how long? Or a guy who has done some good and little harm from what we can gather, just as he claims; a guy who has shared with us stuff we really, seriously, need to know?

The journalist he turned his documents over to claims his next release of information will blow the previous ones out of the water. So time will tell. But as Snowden claimed, he only took what he thought was needed and reasonable and passed those along with the stipulation of doing no grievous harm in releasing future information. That is now out of his hands. As for his not taking this into Russia with him, his argument there holds water Of course he could be lying, he could have a bank account with money from Putin. He could be making deals with extraterrestrials, too. He could be doing anything. But we need to deal with what we can see and extrapolate and what he said, simply makes sense. He was safer not bringing all that with him. Question is, what did he do?

His comments about our becoming a Security State were 100% on the mark.

Who do we know has lied to us more at this point? Snowden? Or our government? Okay, the trouble with that train of thought is, no matter how much Snowden is lying to us, there is simply no way he can surpass how much our Government has been lying to us, and that, is a matter of record. But you get my point, yes?

Sometimes what seems to be, simply is. Sometimes Occams Razor fits and points to the truth right off, and through the entire situation. The problem now is that the government will continue over the top, if they have already been, to make him look bad.

The question is, will they go smooth and slick, or outright discredit him? They will either do nothing, do something, or do a lot of something. It's very possible that who he really is will be pointed out shortly by the government, merely in how bad they make him look. That is, if they pile a lot of crap on him, will it be obvious to the public that it's a "snow job"? Yes, of course, I had to say it. Okay, maybe I didn't, but that is how the government works, you see? Trigger words, offhanded comments of defamation, and so on. You can be distracted by the comment through the words used. Pay attention.

Of course, this also has a lot to do with how incompetent the government will be in response. For years now they have been amazingly incompetent in intelligence matters though they do seem to be getting better, but because of and at the expense of, national confidence and constitutional freedoms. Over the years they've lost most of their experts in this field. SIGINT has trumped HUMINT now for decades and I do disagree with Snowden in that one thing, in a way.

He said that they get far better intel through SIGINT now than HUMINT. Well that actually may be, but it's sad. Because HUMINT is far superior in specifics, in nuances. Much like it's better to use a born national to translate foreign intel, than a foreign born and educated translator. We have failed on these things since the 80s in thinking that SIGINT was the cheaper, better way to go.

Acquiring the communications of Americans has been going on for a long time now. These infractions to our national freedom began walking that fine line, even before 9/11. There was "ThinThread" which encrypted American's private communications, seemed to work well. But then after 9/11, they followed a new program. They would remove the encryption, by Executive Order.

There was a siphoning off from the communications pipe traversing the Pacific Ocean that brings in overseas calls to southern California. A certain No Such Agency entered a certain TelCo building and set up a secret room taping into and piping those calls, splitting them to another building of theirs, located elsewhere, where they could store and access all those calls, including American's calls. Some of the TelCo employees not in the know, noticed something odd in that building, figuring out what was happening. Though I'd assume most of you never heard about that.

We need to keep close scrutiny on these things. Even to the point of being a wee bit paranoid at times, because sometimes they are out to get you and sometimes, it's not the enemy. I think people in our government who have applied these measures, had the best of intentions. Maybe that isn't an excuse. But even if it is, there comes a time when it isn't. See, there is a statute of limitations after an attack, in fear and appropriate responses to the point of a new status quo. It has to be limited. Because as we learn and time passes, what used to be undoable, can become doable.

If we don't force ourselves to find that, what does that say about who we will, or have, become?
Isn't that important too, considering who we are in the world and history as Ameicans?

HUMINT requires time and humans in weird places making calls that aren't quantifiable and we do like quantification now. Qualitative intel requires clever thought and we've dumbed ourselves down because of promoting and replacing experienced field operatives to be in charge with bureaucrats. Not to mention how many times in recent decades we've been asleep at the wheel because we simply did not have local field operatives previously embedded on the scene with working relationship with local nationals.

Like in going against the Chinese years ago. We simply looked different and had a harder time fitting into Chinese maters. This was true as well as the Middle East, which is also very tribal and closed off. In Iraq years ago we pulled our case officers because we thought we could use Saddam Hussein instead. That turned out well, right?

We've made some inroads now in both though, as we finally realized that Chinese Americans and Middle Eastern Americans (both as well as foreign nationals) can do a better job than the good old white boys. But we mistakenly continue to think that "push button" intel is better. True, it has its place and it is incredibly valuable. But there is nothing like personnel on the streets to ferret out what's going on, which has other valuable uses beyond purely gathering intel. There is something to be said for having relationships and winning hearts and minds.

Intelligence is a grey and shadowy area that requires a lot of on the spot judgment calls, trusting operatives in the field and the micro-mangers back in the offices not micro-managing and actually knowing something; like trade craft. Replacing those old school professionals with others, using orgs like the CIA for Military ops and  the Military for Intel Ops, has really skewed things.

We live in a new world today and in a field where nothing is as it seems, much of what can be seen is hidden in a vast array of data we have to filter and get to the proper agencies. When sometimes, the same can be done in a conversation in the space of a few minutes. If you have the right relationships already in place, with the right people, by the right people.

Whether we like it or not the only way to get a handle on this is through people like Snowden. What's interesting is that we're not seeing so many defectors anymore, we're seeing people standing up for our country and and opening the books they are sworn to protect; opening them to, US.

The question is, why? The further question is, are we going to play whack-a-mole with those who are trying to help us, against our own people; our servants who see themselves in some cases, as our masters? Even if, only to "serve" as they see fit, while we lose more and more of what our country once was?

Why is this even happening? Why are our Intel agencies so into acquiring everything they can, even if it's wrong? I think they probably have the best of intentions. Consider that they found out about the 9/11 attack on a small TV, from CNN. They rightly never want that to happen again. But that shouldn't give them carte blanche on all communications, everywhere, now. Should it? Let me answer that for you in case you make the wrong decision there.


Here's the bottom line.

Snowden is now misdirection for us, pure and simple. The important question is, how easy do we want to make our Intelligence community's job? It's all a balance between pure freedom and pure security state. How cheaply do we want them doing it? Because that's really what all this boils down to. Intel isn't easy, or cheap, it's expensive, it takes brains, it takes trained individuals and it's messy. No one wants to allow that anymore.

No one wants to consider risk, better to take freedoms and decrease risk to as close to zero as possible. Yes, I'd like zero risk, but not at the expensive of the country I grew up in, disappearing and being only a faint phantom of what it once ways. I don't want us to turn into another America of 1950s paranoia.

Should we return to despising Germans, or Japanese, or to despise anyone who praises Allah or Mohammed? Anyone who isn't us and disagrees with us? Even if, they try to attack us? Because killing all out enemies isn't the answer. Turning them into our friends is.

We've gotten cheap and lazy and we've been on this course since at least the Berlin wall going down. Europe has thought that we've been lazy and deluding ourselves for decades about terrorism, mostly because we thought the Atlantic Ocean and our "big island" mentality was our saving grace. Well, it's finally happened to us. Now it's our turn to join the older kids in the pool. And it's... scary.

We woke up and it scared us. We retaliated after 9/11 in Iraq in a knee jerk response. America was hurt and pissed off and the Bush administration finally had their reason to invade another country, for oil, but not openly. They took that and ran with it, pushing our fears to the top, taking what they could, making their jobs as easy as they could possibly be, at whatever cost to the nation; to the citizenry. And now it's time to pull back.

We need to buck it up and start being Americans again. Remember John Wayne? That tough guy demeanor has a lot of bad baggage with it, like hiding emotions when you should share, being sexist and ignoring some important things at times. But it's a film hero. Let's skip over the John Wayne anti-communist film, "Big Jim McClain" (1952), for instance.

Still, "big Duke" had some good things about his demeanor. Like being kick ass, not being cheap or afraid of every little thing. And not relying always on the easiest things possible, at the expense of American's lives. And holding Americans in high esteem, and our Republic. Now if only Republicans would realize that too, right? But, I digress....

If we want to allow ELINT, Electronic Intel, to be the tip of our national sword, fine. But we need some limits for Reason's sake and Americans need to be the wall maintaining what our nation stands for Yes, the bad guys may be hiding amongst us, but hey, guess what? What does that start real quick to sound like, again. The Red Menace, right? "A commie behind every bush"? (pun not intended)

Let's face it, there isn't a terrorist behind every rock and cranny. Yes, they are out there. But let's maintain an even strain here, kids. Let's at least try to be the "right stuff". Let's stand up for ourselves and start pushing back.

Snowden, regardless of what he's done or how you think about him, has started the ball rolling. Are you going to let it slide back down now to where it was to start with?

We need to stop trading security for freedom. That is really, the final consideration.

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